In order to keep up with the ever-growing field of published music, Riff N' Ralk, Music Tock has expanded to the printed word to review music. Want Alex or Ryan to write a lengthy, well-thought-out essay about your favorite albums? Leave a comment below, or write on our Facebook wall and we will give it a fair shot!
By: Alex Gomory
As a psychologist in training I often wonder how the minds of my clients operate. As we exchange words I delve slowly into their psyche and attempt to get a grasp as to how they process information. Many times I feel it is relatively similar to my own mental process, but other times I see an individual with a very warped perspective, who sees the world through a shade I do not even know exists.
In the same way, when I listen to music I go through the same process. I try to dissect the music, the words, and the intent of the musicians involved. What is their goal in the piece? Can I connect to the piece on some level? Sometimes the songs are about love, sometimes loss, or lust, or anger, fear, a 1952 Starlight Coupe, cocaine, a haunted Ouija board, or even midget pirates. Whatever the case, in these songs, no matter how hard they push the envelopes musically, I can connect and relate to some extent, much like when I sit in my therapists chair.
There is music, however, that I can’t relate to. Sometimes its because the song is so stupid, trite, or obnoxious that I just wish it would be sent into the sun. It’s like your friend who posts way too much personal stuff on facebook, you just want to scream “Stop”. Then, there is an even more perverse music, a music that speaks like a man half-way through a Xanax withdrawal a music that both baffles the mind and produces a near awkward laughter in the listener. This is the music of lunatics, music that I would say (in the most professional of instances of course) has gone “completely bananas”.
And here we are with just an album, Magma’s Mëkanïk Dëstruktïẁ Kömmandöh. An album I am sure my closest friends are sick of hearing and hearing about. Yes, I have gone on for far too long about the glory of Kobaïa and the prophet Nebëhr Gudahtt or whatever the hell is going on in this album. It’s one of THOSE albums, by one of THOSE bands. If you are someone who actually was alive to see the prog spectacle of the 70s you may remember the slightly nerdy King Crimson or even the lord dorkdom of the cape wearing YES. While there are many genuinely cringe worthy moments from those bands nothing...and until I can be proven wrong I genuinely mean NOTHING compares to the awkward vibe you get from Mëkanïk Dëstruktïẁ Kömmandöh.
For the uninformed, and by that I mean those who don’t actively search out for the most bizarre music on the planet, Magma is a band that formed at the tail end of the 60s and is shockingly still an active force to this day. Led by the peculiar Christian Vander, Magma is something that has to be heard to be understood, literally, they fall under their own musical genre, Zeuhl. Now, this is not some stupid novelty psychedelic band from the 60s no no no, this a full fledged, madness propelled, force of nature....From France of all places. Magma features its own made up language (Kobaïan) and tells the story of people who left earth to form a new race of people (Kobaïans), who then return to Earth at some later date to tell the people of Earth how much they truly suck. This long saga spans an endless number of albums, albums with long plots written in the liner notes, and a lyric sheet only a mother could love. Magma, is not the for the faint of heart. Hell, it is barely for the bold or the brave either, but instead for the truly insane, those who have long gone off the deep end of good taste. Pink Floyd? PFUH! This is the real deal. People dressed in robes sporting giant medallions featuring the Magma symbol singing about the end of the world...or maybe they are just ordering a pizza I have no clue. The lyrics range from repetitive chanting to shrieking and howling. Imagine a church choir being murdered halfway through a mass and you have some idea of what this sounds like.
Still, with all that sad, Magma have a loveable unique charm to them. For as totally insane the singing is, the music is very well composed and performed. Christian tends to pull together a strong cast of performers for his musical circus act and he composes the music himself. While the singing is something to laugh at, the music tends to be something to marvel at. It is this dichotomy that provides more of the head scratching moments in Magma albums, but also provides for genuine laughs too, I mean to be fair they are awkward laughs such as when your 26 year old cousin talks about how his anime shows are deeper than anything on American TV while he is over for dinner, but you still get a chuckle out of them.
Mëkanïk Dëstruktïẁ Kömmandöh (pronounced mechanic destructive commando...in case you had to know....and I think it translate into something like “yes a ‘’12 with extra toppings”) is the pinnacle of Magma albums, and by pinnacle I mean the one that is the best combination of all the above mentioned factors, was released in 1973, a period that could be considered the very shallow peak of Magma’s popularity. A combination of post-apocalyptic music and chanting echoes in your headspace for the roughly 40 some minute run time which varies in tempo and pace, but never skips a beat in terms of how serious it takes itself, which has to be the best part. I have no doubt in my mind about how serious these guys take themselves. I can only imagine that Christian Vander genuinely believes the prophet will come and save everyone from their unpleasant lives, or perhaps that he is that prophet Nebëhr Gudahtt. There is not a shred of irony in the music here which is what makes it all the more special and lovable. When a project is bad, but the creators of it try to play it off as a joke it is rather pathetic, but something that teeters the line of brilliance and sheer lunacy so well like this and with so much conviction is something to behold and love. As the music increases in severity and intensity we see the album slowly descend into calamity and turmoil. Sure there are subtle signs along the way such as a very weird “HOOO” after the line “Kobaïa Is De Hündïn”during the first track Hortz Fur Dëhn Štekëhn Ẁešt that warn the listener that something is not totally right in the head of the musicians making this album.
Still, the album progresses in a peculiar, but fairly typical fashion during the majority of its run time. You might find the music endearing and charming as it blends rock, jazz, gospel, and baroque qualities as it paints the landscape of the story being told to you in its complete gibberish language. You might notice a few choice moments such as hearing someone who CLEARLY can not hit the high notes shrieking quietly in the background, but beyond that it is acceptable and I think respectable album. If you have not noticed there is a massive until coming in this review and here it is. The album’s epic climax is a two track construction (Nebëhr Gudahtt, and Mëkanïk Kömmandöh) and is where everything just goes, for a lack of better terms, completely ape shit. A chant begins, as is typical for the album along with a lovely little piano ditty that loops over and over. Then placed over this chanting are two people who are screaming, shrieking, howling, and any other verb you want to throw in there that describes two people that sound like they are being actively eaten by a rabid tiger. It is this exact moment where the album is mere inches from complete derailing and it is usually this moment where my co-listeners look to me and ask “Alex....what are we listening to?” This screaming eventually calms into another crescendo of chants and building music which explodes into a joyful chorus of insanity, possibly celebrating their complete disregard for their own self-respect and mental health. The album calms to a lull with the much softer Kreühn Köhrmahn Ïss Dëh Hündïn (I swear to god I am not making this up), which brings the listener down to the more sane levels of earlier in the album, up until building into a chorus of hoops, hollers, and trumpet blasts that brings the listener to the end of the saga with nothing more than a high pitched ear splitting tone as if to signify the death of your own sanity. The album barely misses the 40 minute mark, but it misses common sense by a few light years.
Aside from all the snide comments I have chosen to make about this strange French album, it is one of my favorite albums I have ever heard. For all its weird choices and general tomfoolery you still get the notion that these performers really believed in this project and believed it was the future of music. The 70's were a glorious period in music because people were getting paid way too much money to do all sorts of crazy projects, and even though some of the end results were complete disasters there was a sincerity to them. There was no sense of irony or pretentiousness in the attitudes of the musicians, they just wanted to make weird and complicated music. It was until the 80's that record companies realized that they could pay far fewer people to put in far less effort and they would be getting more money too. Personally, I blame Bon Jovi for the death of all these glorious musical shenanigans.
Mëkanïk Dëstruktïẁ Kömmandöh. I love the lunacy of it, the album feels so eager to tell you the world is going to end, and without a shred of joking in its presentation. You can not make stuff like that up. You can trivialize it, mock it, and disregard it, but then you are not really giving it a chance. Just as we listen to our crazy slightly racist grandfather explain how the Zionist conspiracy will rob us all, we should give music like Magma a fair chance, if not only for the fact that they present us with a view point such as this, one so far from the norm that one must wonder what it is. Magma had no one before it, and few after it. They truly are in a cosmos of their own and Mëkanïk Dëstruktïẁ Kömmandöh is the shining star in that constellation.
I recommend Mëkanïk Dëstruktïẁ Kömmandöh to anyone, but to be fair I believe most will dislike its abrasive and challenging nature. For those who have exhausted all the 70's prog avenues, this the next step. For those who love quirky indie music of the present day and want to experience it in its truest and most earnest form I would still suggest this. If you are skeptical of whether you can handle the enormity of this music I would suggest one of Magma’s calmer works such as Attahk or Kobaïa. As they say, Wirt Straïn Zëbëhn Dë Geuštaah, Da felt dö Dos Hamdaak, Da felt dö Stöht Wurdah, Da felt Nëbëhr Gudahtt, Da felt dos Kreuhn Köhrmahn and I couldn't agree more.